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London's Olympic Park: will it deliver on legacy?

As the Olympic Park races towards completing its major venues, judgement day will soon follow on whether they work as engineering and architectural icons.

Although many big names from the engineering, architecture and construction worlds are represented, it is unclear how many will be heralded as having carried out their finest work at the Park.

First out of the blocks was the Velodrome, which opened to great fanfare last month. Although less high profile than the Aquatics Centre, the home of cycling events has a roof of similar size.

Its Pringle-shaped roof and timber cladding create an elegant form that has been broadly welcomed for its aesthetics. But perhaps more importantly, it has been delivered on time and on budget – apart from an adjustment of a reported £25M for additional costs early on of particularly contaminated ground taking the cost to £90M.

Other reasons to celebrate stemmed from the early clarity over the 6,000-seater venue’s use post-Games. Lee Valley Regional Park Authority lay claim to continue to own, fund and manage the VeloPark – that includes a BMX circuit – meaning it suffered none of the uncertainty and redesigns suffered elsewhere on the park.

The Velodrome is a feat of engineering. It was a brave decision taken by contractor ISG to opt for a cable-net roof rather than a steel roof similar to the Aquatics Centre. While a roof of this type and scale had been little used in the UK prior, the system took a brief nine weeks instead of up to six months required for the steel alternative.

But it has not all been a grand success. Last month the National Audit Office released a report that said that timings for the Aquatics Centre handover to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games set for July was “becoming tight”.

This venue has been set up to be one of the brightest jewels of the park. The dynamic structure with an undulating steel roof was designed by world renowned architect Zaha Hadid with Arup as structural engineer in 2005 at an expected cost of £66M.

But just under two years later, Olympic bosses revealed that concerns over the price of steel had led to a redesign – and not a small one, the result was a roof that shrank 60% in size.

Last November Olympic Delivery Authority then chief executive David Higgins said the roof and its design changes “hit the overall project quite substantially”. “It was quite late and that delayed everything,” he added.

While the roof shrank, the cost expanded – the most recent cost has been put at £269M, although it is unclear whether this will be the final bill as there have been issues with maintaining internal air temperatures at the venue.

There will be many crossing their fingers that the end result – and the incorporation of temporary seating structures during Games time – will be worth it.

Next door to the Aquatics Centre is the Olympic Stadium. Much has been made of its function over form credentials being in the majority formed from temporary seating and having a simple design. Because the design was so simple, a temporary fabric wrap provided a welcome visual stimulant. However, last year Higgins said the wrap was “not technically required to protect against wind conditions” and dropped it in favour of a £7M saving.

Despite protestations from government Olympic executive director of build and finance David Goldstone that the Stadium had not lost its unique selling point – he said it will look “cleaner” without the wrap – the stadium is looking set to fade into the background unless private funding steps in to pay for it.

Onlookers will be waiting eagerly to see the effects of the landscaping on bringing the Park together as a whole. And then it will be more evident which are the jewels in the crown and which leave people scratching their heads.

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